Once there was a not-quite girl. She was small and still, and she knew many stories. Stories about why the water in the pools was silver (because water was greedy and swallowed the moon), and why she must not go to the far hills (because wolves lived in the hills, deep underground, and listened for footsteps on the rocks above them).
‘And what is beyond the hills?’ she asked the grown people.
‘There is nothing beyond the hills, little one,’ they told her.
As she grew, the not-quite girl learned not to be curious. Curiosity was the opposite of stillness, and this meant it was dangerous. There were plants hungry for blood, insects that hunted in darkness, liquid that bubbled and spat. There were many, many things that stung or bit or burned, that waited and hunted and leapt. She learned how to take up as little space as possible, how to walk through the world lightly.
‘There is safety in slowness,’ her grown people said, ‘in stillness and silence.’
So the not-quite girl learned how to watch, and wait. She learned how to crouch in the shallows so that fish flicked round her ankles and waterboatmen crashed into her knees. She learned how to hide herself in reeds. She learned such stillness that spiders wove webs between her fingers and moss settled on her skin. As the long hours passed, she watched the water turn from silver to violet, and storms streak across the sky. Her prey did not see her, because she was silent and still as the rocks.
And sometimes, when a shadow raised its head far in the distance, she began to wonder what the distance held.
‘The closer you get to the distance the further away it is,’ said the grown people. ‘That is the way of things.’
But she was learning what lies looked like. Slowly, slowly, she crept further away from the shallows and the reeds. She made sure she was back by dark, but she was young and her limbs were strong and they carried her further on each of her explorings. Until one day, she saw the monster approach.
She smelled it first, hot and unfamiliar, and she dropped to her hands and knees and tensed her body for flight. Whatever it was, it was angry, and it was fast. The ground trembled beneath her and the roaring in her bones felt like singing. The monster had no legs, like a snake, but it moved in a straight line and its breath was a dark grey cloud. All along its body were countless eyes.
She watched it for a long time, until it disappeared from view into the hills where the sun was setting.
And the not-quite girl began to dream of the horizon.
– The Cautious Traveller’s Guide to the Wastelands
|What I Write
I’m working (very slowly) on a novel, The Cautious Traveller’s Guide to the Wastelands, which has grown out of a story I wrote at Clarion West in 2012. I also write short stories, also very slowly…
My fiction has appeared in Shimmer, Interzone, Unlikely Story, and Strange Horizons, under my pen name Sarah Brooks.